Local high school teams are ready to take the courts by storm this basketball season, and the North Gwinnett Voice talked with the coaches tasked with guiding these teams to wins.

Buford High School 

Gene Durden, head coach for the Buford Lady Wolves basketball team, said, “Buford should stay true to form with many experienced players returning for this season’s challenging schedule to continue the Lady Wolves’ tradition and style of play.” 

Among the experienced returning players are senior posts Tatum Ozment and Tamori Plantin. Another key player for the Lady Wolves is rising star and sophomore point guard Ava Grace Watson. 

The Lady Wolves have won the Region 8 Championship the past four years running, and Durden has no plans to slow down. 

“A challenging schedule which includes state powers Holy Innocents, Wesleyan, Parkview and Brookwood should prepare the Lady Wolves for another post-season run-in Class 6A basketball,” Durden said.

The Lady Wolves will open their season on Saturday, Nov. 20, playing in the Jackson-EMC Tipoff Classic at Jefferson. The first matchup is at 9 a.m. against Lithia Springs. 

On the Buford High School boys side, coach Benjie Wood said, “The players … are working hard to become accustomed to our new style of play.” 

The team will be anchored by returning senior starters Jaylon Taylor and Alahn Sumler, and junior Malachi Brown will run the show starting as point guard this season. 

Wood continued, “I am very excited about this year’s squad. … Our goal is to play relentless defense, rebound and run for 32 minutes.”

Buford will open its season at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20, in a tournament game against Northview. 

North Gwinnett High School 

At North Gwinnett High School, girls basketball head coach Joshua Chase said, “I’m really excited about this team. Chemistry would be our greatest strength going into the season.” 

North Gwinnett’s returning key starters include seniors Neva Drane and Marisa Miller, as well as junior Ava Watson. Chase thinks he has a strong team as long as they continue to hone their skills and work on finishing out games. 

“It’s a good mixture of youth and experience,” Chase said. “I think people can expect a team that works hard, plays together, and a team that wants to do well.”

The Lady Bulldogs will have three games under their belt going into a matchup on Saturday, Nov. 20, against Lassiter in the Wolverine Tip-Off at Woodstock High School — a scrimmage against Parkview, a matchup against Lanier (a 52-38 win) and a game against Lambert (final score not available as of press time). Saturday’s game starts at 11:30 a.m. 

North Gwinnett High School boys basketball head coach Matt Garner described his squad as “a great defensive team that wants to play fast on offense.” 

Garner cites the team’s greatest strengths as being size and experience. The Bulldogs have eight players who are 6’5” or taller, and nine seniors, many of whom played a part in the team’s back-to-back Elite 8 and region championship runs. RJ Godfrey in particular stands out having just committed to Clemson University as well as being Gwinnett’s Player of the Year last year and making All-State. 

“You will see a group of guys play for each other and their school,” Garner said.

With two games already played in the 2021-22 season — a pre-season scrimmage against Parkview and a non-region game against Lanier, which North Gwinnett won 64-59 — the Bulldogs are set to host the Jared Cook Tip-Off Classic. North Gwinnett plays Milton at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20. 

Lanier High School

The head coach for Lanier High School’s girls team, Jose Cardy, said, “People can expect a tough team that will play hard until the end.”

Lanier’s standout players include seniors Karina Lopez-Duran and Riley Bryan, for whom their coach had nothing but praise. 

“We cannot get these two out of the gym,” Cardy said. “From shooting before school, after practice and even weekend sessions their drive is immeasurable.” 

The coach stressed that their team is a family, and although some players are stepping into new roles, he is optimistic going into the season. 

“Our goal is to build a championship culture that we all in Sugar Hill can be proud of,” he said. 

The Lady Longhorns will go into a home game against Walnut Grove at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19, with two losses — a 46-24 loss against East Forsyth and a 52-38 loss to North Gwinnett. 

Lanier High School boys head coach Branden Mayweather said his team’s “greatest strength going into the season will be our depth and how many guys we can truly play in our system.” 

Some of the key players for Lanier include Joshua Bell, a towering 6-foot-9 senior, as well as senior Justin Birch. 

Speaking on areas his team can still improve, Mayweather said, “We need to be more efficient and tougher … [but] they can expect us to play hard and to play fast. We will compete night in and night out.”

Coming off a 64-59 loss against North Gwinnett, the Longhorns will host Walnut Grove at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19. 

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